Despite a failed 1976 bid for a mayoral seat, Sutton still exercised influence in local politics and business.
“As Borough President, Sutton advocated for and implemented programs that specifically targeted the City’s most vulnerable populations,” said Arva Rice, president and CEO of the New York Urban League.
A fixture on the legendary 125th St. as a young man, Sutton was able to give back to the community that helped shape him when he purchased a financially beleaguered Apollo Theater for $250,000 in 1981. With the acquisition, ICBC also acquired or launched a magazine, record and publishing companies, an artist management company, and several other related entities, including a syndicated television show, “Showtime at the Apollo.” Along with the purchase Sutton secured investors for an $18 million renovation of the theater.
In addition to his radio holdings, Sutton also headed a group that owned The Amsterdam News, the second largest black weekly newspaper in the country. The paper was later sold.
“[Sutton’s] life-long dedication to the fight for civil rights and his career as an entrepreneur and public servant made the rise of countless young African Americans possible,” remarked President Barack Obama.
Sutton’s achievements mark a staunch dedication to education instilled in him and his siblings by his father, Samuel, who was born into slavery just before the Civil War. Samuel went on to become a high school principal. Sutton, the youngest of 15 children, was born in San Antonio on Nov. 24, 1920. Samuel made sure that all 12 of his surviving children went on to attend college.
Black Enterprise recognized Sutton with the Arthur G. Gaston Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, one of many awards, including the 1987 NAACP Spingarn Medal, to his credit. Also in 2000, Black Enterprise readers named Sutton one of the “10 Most Important Black Business Luminaries” of the 20th century.
“Tuskegee Airman. Civil-rights activist. Attorney for the family of Malcolm X. First black (and longest-serving) Manhattan Borough President. BE 100s CEO and founder of Inner City Broadcasting Corp., one of America’s largest black-owned companies. Key strategist for the ground-breaking presidential campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson. Any one of these designations would make Percy E. Sutton, the youngest son of a former slave, a giant among men,” says Black Enterprise Publisher Earl Graves. “The combination of these, only a sampling of his achievements, stamps Sutton as a true titan. He lived a life full to overflowing, setting a standard truly worthy of emulation, and I am blessed and proud to have been his friend.”
Sutton is survived by his wife, Leatrice; his son Pierre, and daughter Cheryl.